Despite being a relatively low-profile position, the work of the state insurance commissioner touches the lives of every Washingtonian. The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends that Mike Kreidler be reelected in the Nov. 3 general election.
As always, this is merely a recommendation. The Columbian expects that voters will examine the candidates and the issues before casting an informed ballot.
The Office of the Insurance Commissioner regulates insurance companies doing business in Washington. If you have health insurance, auto insurance, or homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, Kreidler’s work during five terms in office has impacted you.
“I’m very excited about this job,” Kreidler said during a remote interview with the editorial board. “We read the fine print and do the grunt work to ensure that insurance companies are living up to the promises they made when they sold you a policy.”
Kreidler’s office also investigates insurance fraud, licenses insurance agents and handles complaints from the public.
Recently, his work has been evident during the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. He directed state-regulated health insurers to expand coverage of telemedicine visits, issued an emergency order protecting consumers from surprise lab fees relating to COVID-19 and ordered health insurers to waive copays and deductibles for coronavirus testing.
“When it comes to emergency measures like that, I have significant authority,” he explained. But that authority is not all-powerful, and Kreidler has effectively worked with the governor’s office and the Legislature when necessary.
As an optometrist by trade and a former congressional representative, Kreidler brings a broad perspective to issues surrounding the insurance industry. He notes that about 13 percent of Washington residents were without health insurance when the state enacted an exchange under the Affordable Care Act in the past decade, and that number dropped to about 6 percent in recent years. It has risen, he said, as the Trump administration has undermined the Affordable Care Act, and has increased further during the pandemic.
Despite that pressure on the system, Kreidler last month approved an average rate decrease of 3.2 percent for 2021 on the state’s health exchange — the second consecutive year premiums have declined by more than 3 percent. “In the end,” Kreidler said, “the Affordable Care Act needs to be revisited, reinvigorated.”
Another example of Kreidler’s insight can be found in his answer to a question about wildfires. He said there is concern that companies will stop insuring structures in wilderness areas. While the insurance commissioner cannot prevent that, effective land-use policy can help keep insurers in the market.
Challenger Chirayu Avinash Patel, meanwhile, is a licensed insurance agent who brings some unconventional ideas to the race. Among them, he writes in the Voters’ Pamphlet: “I have found 168 Honorable Insurance Agents all of whom are more qualified then myself to each serve in 1 hour increments as Internal Insurance Commissioners of Washington state.” Patel had agreed to meet with the editorial board for a joint interview but did not appear at the appointed time.
With the pandemic causing havoc on a health care industry that is based on employer-provided insurance, Washington is fortunate to have Mike Kreidler as insurance commissioner. The Columbian’s Editorial Board recommends that Kreidler be reelected.